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Showing posts from 2019

Books Read in 2019

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January Oyinkan Braithwaite, My Sister, the Serial Killer Alyssa Cole, An Extraordinary Union Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things Aja Monet, My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Signal to Noise Kaoru Mori, Emma , Vol 1 Kaoru Mori, Emma , Vol 2 Sarah Perry, Melmoth February Alyssa Cole, A Prince on Paper Claire G. Coleman, Terra Nullius Sangu Mandanna, A Spark of White Fire Mandeliene Smith, Rutting Season Susan Tan, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire March Alyssa Cole, A Hope Divided Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI Lauren Layne, Blurred Lines Lauren Layne, Irresistibly Yours Lauren Layne, I Wish You Were Mine Lauren Layne, Made for You Lauren Layne, Only with You Lauren Layne, Someone like You Lauren Layne, Walk of Shame Jessica Lemmon, Arm Candy Jessica Lemmon, The Bastard Billionaire Jessica Lemmon, Th

10 Years of Blogging !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Unbelievably, ten years ago today (or so), I started this blog. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1 Before then, I was tracking my books on Livejournal, but wanted more conversation about the books I was reading. I posted a review of The Monsters of Templeton (a book I still think about some ten years later) and ... yeah. I remember thinking it'd be amazing if I could last six months. Then a year. And somehow, I managed to do this for a decade. !!!!!!!!!!!!1 There are few things I can say I've done consistently for 10 years and I'm feeling pretty proud of myself. Blogging has really changed my life: it's changed how I read, the way I think about my reading and writing, and it's one of my biggest hobbies. (It numbers as one of the first four things people say about me when introducing me to others.) I can't express how much I appreciate the people I've met through blogging. You all have made this more fun, interesting, meaningful, and fun! It's real

Reading Challenge: Read Harder 2020

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For 2019, I did two reading challenges: Historical Fiction and Read Harder . Read Harder changed my reading life. I had initially rolled my eyes at about a fourth of the requirements, but in the end, every book I was "forced" to read was ultimately really wonderful. I ended up learning something, enjoying more than I anticipated, and was introduced to new authors and ideas. Many of my favorite reads for 2019 were due to Read Harder -- now I feel like I 'get' reading challenges and I'm hooked! So I'm pretty excited for Read Harder 2020 . If you can recommend anything that fits one of these 24 options, let me know! I'm still developing my list. Read Harder 2020 1) Read a YA nonfiction book An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People 2) Read a retelling of a classic of the canon, fairytale, or myth by an author of color Beloved by Toni Morrison One Thousand and One Nights by Hanan al-Shaykh Tender by Sofia Sam

Weekend reads, or hunkering down for winter

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We had our first snow earlier this week; for us, it was two days, so heavy that school was cancelled. Unabridged Kid enjoyed himself and had a wildlife cafe for a bit. Winter is my least favorite season so I'm trying to lean into the hygge by getting cozy when possible: fancy chocolates on chilly nights; cuddling the new kittens, Dash and Lilly; pretty decorations; and of course, books! This weekend I'll be finishing up three reads for the Historical Novel Society (reviews to come in the spring issue of the magazine): Brett Cogburn's Gunpowder Express ; Leanna Renee Hieber's A Sanctuary of Spirits ; and Sarah-Jane Stratford's Red Letter Days . I'm two books short of completing Read Harder 2019 and I am determined to crush it, although I suspect I'll be wrapping up at 11:57 on the 31st. I'm pulling together my top 10 reads for 2019 and it is a very hard list to assemble -- there were SO. MANY standout reads this year. What are you reading thi

The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott

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Was it so wrong to feel that she had been treated unfairly? That she'd been judged and damned and had not had the right to defend herself? I stayed up until 1am to finish this novel, set in 1921, following a veteran and a widow of World War I. It had shades of Graham Greene and Alfred Hitchcock, too: a vague menace stalking our main characters, who were trying to find peace in a Europe looking to neatly memorialize what had happened. The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott William Morrow Paperbacks, 2019 Review copy from publisher for blog tour Historical Fiction reading challenge I've mostly given up novels set in eitherWorld War I or World War II; I'd read so many that I was feeling like I was getting the same thing over and over. This is Caroline Scott's debut novel, and she manages to not only create a story with the hold-your-breath tension of a domestic thriller, but she also brilliantly (tearfully) evokes the terror and horror of trench combat. Edi

The Art of Escapism Cooking by Mandy Lee

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Look, the only thing I'd like to cook at seven in the morning -- as I lie in bed with residual resentments from the day before and looming despair about the day ahead --is the people who say they love cooking breakfast. Who are these people? I imagine their breakfasts taste like denial buttered up with overcompensating enthusiasm. Cookbooks are so much more than lists of recipes anymore. Some are really just about the pretty pictures or the personality of their author. Many are attempts to catch a popular trend, usually of the 'diet' variety. Mandy Lee's cookbook might have mouthwatering pictures and a strong sense of her acerbic personality, but it's also a travel memoir, a biography, a Dear John; or, as the subtitle succinctly summarizes: a survival story. I'm not sure I've ever really found myself thinking about how well a cookbook meets a political moment, however, until this one. (Which is a shame, because food is so much a part of cultur

National Geographic's Visual Galaxy

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Our burning desire to take those first wobbly steps is rooted in our need to go see for ourselves, to taste and touch the world around us. We learn by exploring. , from the Foreword by Col. Chris Hadfield Of the million reasons I love being a parent to Unabridged Kid, one of the biggies is his hunger to know and learn. Seeing his joy, his awe, and his delight as he discovers something about the world around him is a pleasure I can barely express. Which is why I am so loving these gorgeous coffee table books from National Geographic. Visual Galaxy National Geographic, 2019 Source from the publisher for blog tour Earlier this year I gushed about my sentimental attachment to National Geographic; I'm grateful that they are still sharing the beauty and mystery of our world and beyond. The Foreword from Col. Chris Hadfield is a short love letter to everyone inspired by the sky and what is just past what we can see; I'm a Hadfield fan already but his brief introduction

The Highlander's Christmas Bride by Vanessa Kelly

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"Don't think too long, because you're not that charming," Nick said. "She just might choose a nunnery, after all." Despite my love of romances, I've somehow never gotten onto the Christmas romance train, which is odd because I do love Christmas movies (although I am firmly against Love Actually as either a sentimental holiday tradition or a movie to be liked; but I also believe both Die Hard and Bridget Jones's Diary are Christmas movies so take what you will from this.) All that to say: Vanessa Kelly's newest has me thinking I need to do some Christmas-themed romance deep diving immediately. The Highlander's Christmas Bride by Vanessa Kelly Zebra Books, 2019 Copy from the author for blog tour Historical Fiction reading challenge While the plot is familiar -- seemingly-doomed-to-spinsterhood heroine meets brawny bachelor; both smother their interest in the other; random occurrence forces them to consider marriage to save repu

Weekend Reads, or readathon-ing it...

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Busy weekends upon us, including this one. School open houses, playdates, and birthday parties. Spending time outside, enjoying New England fall when it's not an icy, rainy deluge. But Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon is tomorrow, and as always, I've signed up in hopes of getting some good reading in. I've a string of books more than half read, and I'd love to finish them during the readathon. I'm hoping I'll finish up Tarot for Troubled Times , which has given me so much to chew over and freshened up my tarot practice; as well as the absolutely emotionally gripping This Is How You Lose the Time War , which I'm both listening to and reading. It's deeply romantic and wonderfully fantastic, and the language is so good that after I hear the amazing audiobook readers do a chapter or two, I go back and read them to savor. And to my surprise, I'm going to be reading Emily Dickinson's Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Iconic Po

Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes

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Before she could shoot, a familiar voice boomed from the loudspeakers. "Attend me, worthless muck-eaters. I have come to your inferior outpost to apprehend the human captain Eva the Innocent!" I erroneously described this as Firefly with a lesbian Mal; but I was only wrong about our main character's sexual identity (pansexual, maybe?). Otherwise, this marvelously fun comedic sci fi takes the best part of shows like Firefly , with a charming crew and a "curmudgeonly" "anti-hero" captain (who is both adorable and heroic), and injects welcome imagination into the ragtag-posse-take-on-enormous-challenges plot line. Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes Harper Voyager, 2019 Copy from publisher for blog tour Captain Eva Innocente loves her ship, La Sirena Negra , and her work: running cargo and passengers around the universe. The book opens with Eva struggling to recapture her most recent order -- a passel of psychic cats -- and so, by page 3, I w

The First Lady and the Rebel by Susan Higginbotham

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"But you were right, in one respect. Those bullets made us what we are." Susan Higginbotham's newest novel takes the familiar Civil War story of brother-versus-brother and offers a fresh, sad version: sisters Mary and Emily Todd. Mary Todd would marry Abraham Lincoln while Emily would marry Hardin Helm, a devoted Confederate who would eventually become a General in the Confederate Army. The First Lady and the Rebel by Susan Higginbotham Sourcebooks Landmark, 2019 Source from publisher on behalf of blog tour Reading Challenge: Historical Fiction From a Kentucky slaveholding family, the Todd siblings were bound to be torn apart by the Civil War, but moreso when headstrong Mary sets her sights on the humble Abraham Lincoln and Emily on dashing Hardin Helm. Higginbotham shares both stories with a tender sympathy, even with both women behave in petty or cruel ways. Initially both families were friendly, with admiration between Abraham Lincoln and Hardin Helm

Interview with Susan Higginbotham

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I am so excited to share my interview with novelist Susan Higginbotham. Although she might be most well known for her novels set in the UK, she's started exploring 19th-century America in her more recent books, including her newest, The First Lady and the Rebel . It's the gripping story of Abraham Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and her beloved sister Emily, as they find themselves at the opposite ends of the Civil War. My review comes on Thursday but prepare for major squees. I loved this book! What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction? Because I've been writing since I was a child, I can't remember, but I can tell you that it likely had something to do with cats. My first attempt at a historical novel, however, was when I was in junior high and started to write a novel about a family of orphans living through the Blitz. (Clearly, given the current vogue for World War II novels, I was way ahead of my time.) It didn't have much plot, as I rec

Farewell My Life by Cynthia Sally Haggard

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The war had been over for less than four years, and Berlin was full of amputees begging on the streets, of gaunt young men startling at the slightest thing. This is a splashy, dramatic historical novel that reads like a mix of penny dreadfuls, 1980s Joan Collins romances, and any number of thrillers. Mixing a tumultuous, intriguing setting -- Europe in 1921 and 1922, then a jump to 1938 -- with a dysfunctional family saga, this book is like a froofy cocktail in a bubble bath: a little excessive but oh-so good. Farewell My Life by Cynthia Sally Haggard Self Published, 2019 Copy provided by author as part of blog tour Read Harder 2019 What I so appreciated and enjoyed in this book was the mix of expected and surprising in the story. I've read many pre-war historical novels and any number of gifted-heroine-exposed-to-the-world coming-of-age stories, but Haggard picked unique details that made this story new. The heroine at the heart of this novel is Grace, an Italian-Ameri

The Only Skill That Matters by Jonathan Levi

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But the truth is that while it's great to have enthusiasm for learning, enthusiasm without planning cna do more harm than good. The subtitle of this book -- "The proven methodology to read faster, remember more, and become a superlearner" -- immediately attracted me. I usually only read one or two nonfiction books in a year but wish I read more, especially for personal and professional development. Never mind my perpetual yearning to learn another language or be more adept at some of my woo hobbies. The Only Skill That Matters by Jonathan Levi Lioncrest Publishing, 2019 Source via publisher, thanks to TLC Book Tours I was unfamiliar with Levi and his SuperLearner empire, but found his book to be easy to engage with and understand. At the center of this book is a particular practice of priming one's self for learning and a particular way of studying; and honestly, I wish I had had this book when I was in college. I managed to do well in high school with

National Geographic's Almanac 2020

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Breaking bread is the universal bonding mechanism of humanity. At a table, over food, one has no enemies. National Geographic magazine is a sentimental staple in my life: I grew up on old issues given to me by neighbors and treasured the subscriptions I got for Christmas. I've given up my paper magazines in the name of conservation but am still drawn to that familiar yellow border and the images and knowledge within. Almanac 2020 by National Geographic National Geographic, 2019 Copy provided by publisher for TLC Book Tours I hadn't had an opportunity to pour over any of NatGeo's annual almanacs until offered one for review, and it's an ultra dose of everything the magazine does well, broken up into small, easily consumed tidbits. It's perfect for trivia nerds and kids: most of the topics are covered in two pages or less, broken up with NatGeo's trademark stunning photography or infographics and timelines for context. Between us, I'm not prec

Cover Reveal: Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

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I loooooooooooooooooooooooove Nancy Bilyeau's books (here's my review of her most recent, The Blue , which was fascinating!) and I'm so excited she has another book coming out in 2020. Introducing... Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau Publication Date: January 16, 2020 Endeavor Quill Genre: Historical Fiction The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground. But the invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer at the Moonrise Bookstore where she works voluntarily, than keeping up appearances with Brooklyn socialites and her snobbish, controlling family. But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy more of the freedom she has been longing for. For one, she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surel

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

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Above them bright satellites transited in the darkening sky and the last hawks were returning to the rest of their nests and around them passersby did not pause to look at this old woman in her black robe or this old man with his stubble. I was interested in the sci-fi element of this novel -- the magical doors -- and the political implications of it -- migration, borders, identity -- but what hooked me by the heart and left me in tears by the end was the beautiful, complicated, painful, oh-so-realistic relationship of Nadia and Saeed. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid Penguin Random House Audio, 2017 Copy via the library Hamid reads his own book in audio, and it was a delightful listen. The philosophical musings felt more organic and natural -- like being in Nadia's mind or Saeed's thoughts -- than when I read them, and the inevitability of Nadia and Saeed -- growing together, growing apart -- felt so much more poignant with someone telling me about them. Nadia and Sa

Interview with author Cynthia Ripley Miller

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I'm excited to share my interview with author Cynthia Ripley Miller; I've just started her newest book, The Quest for the Crown of Thorns , a historical novel that is giving me The DaVinci Code -meets- Outlander vibes. Set in 5th century Rome, it's a romantic thriller adventure with fascinating historical elements that have me hooked. If you're intrigued, check out the interview and enter the giveaway at the end of this post. Cynthia Ripley Miller Do you have any writing rituals or routines? I prefer writing in the late morning continuing into the early evening. Depending on how much time I have, I'll take a break and step away from it for some fresh air, and then return a little later. When I walk, I listen to music. Often, the words or melody will trigger ideas that I may incorporate into my stories. I'll often write after the dinner hour as well. Regarding rituals, in my office, I have pictures that represent how I imagine my settings and characters

Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger by Lee Israel

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I had never known anything but "up" in my career, had never received even one of those formatted no-thank-you slips that successful writers look back upon with triumphant jocularity. And I regarded with pity and disdain the short-sleeved wage slaves who worked in offices. I had no reason to believe life would get anything but better. I had no experience failing. I'd grabbed this as a possibility for my Read Harder 2019 challenge 19, a book of nonviolent true crime. I ended up counting Bad Blood for it instead, but given the slender length of this book, decided to give it a try. Le ugh. What an unappealing person! I don't know what Lee Israel is like in real life -- she does admit she's hard to be around, especially during this period of her life -- but the story she details here wasn't funny or charming to me. I'm kind of judging the people who told her she had to recount these adventures. Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forge

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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I can love you and want you and still not want that life. I'm allowed, all right, and it doesn't me me a liar; it makes me a man with some infinitesimal shred of self-preservation, unlike you, and you don't get to come here and call me a coward for it. I believe I'm the only person on the planet who isn't in swoons over this book. About a quarter of the way through the book, I found myself irritated as I read, but I couldn't put my finger on what, precisely, was getting to me since it had all kinds of things that should have been insta-wins. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston St. Martin's Griffin, 2019 Copy via my public library It's weird to say this about a novel that is practically just wish fulfillment but I think this book had too much artifice and exaggeration for me to take it seriously. Everything in this book was extreme: the emotions, the language, the pace, the characters. McQuiston took an element and streeeeeeeeeeee

I am Mrs. Jesse James by Pat Wahler

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I've spent so much time praying marriage would be an anchor for Jesse. Do you think he'll ever abandon his wandering life and stay home with you for good? I won this book in a giveaway last fall and had been meaning to read it as soon as it arrived; and then my wife broke her ankle and we moved and I hadn't unpacked this book until a few weeks ago. It was a perfect read for both of my reading challenges this year -- Historical Fiction and Read Harder 's challenge 9, "a book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads". I will confess to some apprehension ahead of starting this book, though. In this current political climate, in which neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and domestic terrorists are getting mainstream platforming, I wasn't sure if we needed historical novels that offer empathetic views of people who were, and remained, problematic in their lifetimes. (I keep wondering if Melanie Benjamin's The Avi

Supper Club by Lara Williams

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Those evenings, sitting on the living-room floor, laptops to our sides and an array of paper scattered across the floor, drinking wine and listening to music, were suffused with a warmth like nothing else I'd ever felt. I thought of it as the same feeling people get when planning their wedding. It felt enormous and essential and transitory: this papier-mâché beast that we were trying to carve into form. Did I like this book? Or did I hate it? I'm going to split the difference and just say "yes". Supper Club by Lara Williams G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2019 Digital review copy via Edelweiss To stave off loneliness in college, our narrator Roberta takes up cooking. But this isn't one of those sumptuous, charming foodie novels that has your mouth watering; instead, there was something a little gross, slightly dank, and funky about the food. (Williams has our narrator observe that our appetites tip close toward revulsion.) There was an extreme focus on body

The Snakes by Sadie Jones

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On bad days he missed her. He would sit on the train, desperate to be home, staring at his reflection and the other ghostly doppelgängers of his fellow travellers; their possible selves, and he would think of all the things he wanted, that he might never find. If you want something that is a total beach read -- family dysfunction, a marriage challenged, tragic death, decaying French hotel -- but with a slightly literary style, this is that book. It's compulsively terribly irresistible. The Snakes by Sadie Jones Harper, 2019 Digital review copy from publisher Our main character Bea comes from wealth (the level of which we don't discover until later in the book) but strives to live without any help from her family, whom she disdains (save for her beloved, troubled brother Alex). Her husband Dan came from poverty; he wants to be an artist but doesn't feel like they can afford for him to do so. On a whim, he pleads with Bea to take their savings and travel to Ital

Quick thoughts on Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

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Lying is a disgusting habit, and it flows through the conversations here like it's our own currency. The cultural disease here is what we should be curing... I've been fascinated first, and horrified later, by Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, and couldn't fathom this book detailing anything I hadn't already read. HA. Carreyrou shares the details behind his fantastic Wall Street Journal reporting, including the shocking lengths Theranos took to silence him. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou Knopf, 2018 Copy from public library Read Harder challenge Expanding on his exposé of Theranos, Carreyrou briefly details Elizabeth Holmes' background and her founding of Theranos. The sketchy details that mar the beginning of this endeavor are presented as they develop, and it makes this story even more astounding/horrifying.  This book is very readable despite the science behind it (or science allegedly behind it, I suppos